Arrowroot starch and tapioca starch are both derived from the roots of tropical plants. Arrowroot and tapioca starches thicken at lower temperatures than cornstarch or wheat flour, allowing you to adjust a pudding or sauce at the last minute before serving the dish. While they are basically interchangeable, the proportions should be adjusted to ensure the success of your dish. In general, 1 tablespoon tapioca starch has the thickening power of 1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot.
What Is Arrowroot?
Arrowroot starch, often labeled as arrowroot powder, is a natural thickener produced from the dried and finely ground roots of the arrowroot plant (Maranta arundinacea). It is gluten-free and appropriate for use in vegan dishes.
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Used as a thickener in jellies, fruit fillings and desserts, arrowroot powder works well with acidic ingredients when cooking at lower temperatures. It doesn't change the flavor or color of the dish and adds a glossy sheen, making it a good choice when making pie fillings and sauces. It is not affected by freezing, so it can be used when making ice cream or baking casseroles and pies for the freezer.
About Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is a gluten, fat and protein-free thickener extracted from the bitter variety of cassava root (Manihot esculenta). While the processed roots may be ground for flour, converted into tapioca granules or "pearls" or have the starch extracted, raw cassava roots and leaves are not safe for consumption until cooked. Commercially-processed tapioca starch and other tapioca products are perfectly safe for use in your kitchen, but should be kept in a tightly closed container on the shelf. Don't put it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Tapioca starch is used as a thickener in pie fillings, gravies, soups and stews and to add moisture to gluten-free as well as flour-filled baked goods. It thickens at lower temperatures than other types of thickeners, such as cornstarch and flour, which allows you to adjust the thickness of the dish at the last minute. It does add a glossy sheen when it gels, making it ideal for pies and desserts.
Differences Between Thickeners in Cooking
Arrowroot and tapioca starches are both tasteless, gluten-free and when heated, become clear and glossy. When added to a dish and heated, they have a jelly-like consistency, a positive aspect in cranberry sauce, jellies, pie filling and sweet and sour sauce. If the sauce, jelly or pie filling isn't quite thick enough, you can add either one at the last minute, as they thicken quickly at lower temperatures than other commonly used thickeners.
When making gravies and sauces, thickeners like cornstarch and flour make liquids opaque and add gluten to the dish. If you need to make a substitution in a dish, take time to consider the differences in flavor, appearance and preservation between the original ingredient and another starch, such as tapioca starch versus cornstarch. Tapioca starch holds up when the completed dish is frozen, while cornstarch is better for cooking at higher temperatures.
You can add arrowroot and tapioca starch directly into a sauce or pie filling; it will dissolve quickly. Cornstarch and flour should be added to a small amount of cool water, milk or other liquid in a jar and shaken until dissolved, then slowly stirred into the hot gravy or sauce to avoid lumps. After adding to the liquid in the pan, be sure to simmer for two to three minutes to eliminate the raw flavor. Flour also continues to thicken as it cools, so take the pan off the burner while it is still a little thin.